Research Basics: NAICS


There’s nothing like an impending election to make our government look bad, but on occasion they get things right, like data production.  Point in case the NAICS Code, which stands for North American Industry Classification Scheme.  In business research NAICS Codes are a handy-dandy tool for 1) isolating industry news/reports, and 2) creating company lists based on, as the title implies, how a business is classified. You can include the NAICS Code as piece of limiting criteria in some of our favorite databases like Business Source Complete, and ReferenceUSA.  In the first screenshot shown below, the NAICS option comes up in a dropdown list in BSC. 

Also because NAICS falls under the umbrella of all-things-Census, you’ll also see it featured on the Industry Statistics Sampler website.  Just choose your code of interest to see downloadable report offerings for how that industry is faring.

How do you get your hands on the code you need?  Visit the NAICS homepage and use the search box above the “2007 NAICS Search” button to enter a word, e.g. “sunglasses,” and you’ll receive a list of codes related to your term.  The image on the right shows the extent to which you can drill down using the NAICS website.  Click on a code to see even more information about how it's used to make sure you’re on the right track.

One important note is that some databases and business tools might still reference SIC (Standard Industry Classification) Codes, which were last updated in 1987, and which NAICS replaced in 1997 (FAQ).  For the fine points of difference between SIC and NAICS, visit its History page.  On the off-chance you need to translate between these codes, visit the Concordances page.

Business Source Complete


It’s 2012, we’re back, and we mean business!  Well actually, we mean business no matter the year, so what better way to start 2012 than with one of the most fundamental business research tools:  The Business Source Complete Database, or BSC as well affectionately call it. BSC is just one subject-specific database from a vendor named EBSCO, and EBSCO’s full repertoire of subject databases spans practically every major field of study.  I looked up EBSCO in its own database (not unlike Googling for Google) and the first result, an August 2011 Datamonitor360 report says EBSCO Publishing is, “the world’s most used for-fee internet research service.”  EBSCO is so ubiquitous of a research tool that the odds of your local library having a BSC subscription are pretty good.  (Public libraries may have several useful tools beyond BSC, e.g. Reference USA.)  If they don’t, you might check with your local college/university and see if they allow guests to access their databases.

Simply put, we use BSC all the time for business research.  While it might not be updated up-to-the-minute as some other databases like Factiva, its sheer breadth of scope spans a bit of everything: all manner of trade and popular news, industry reports, popular publications like Harvard Business Review, and scholarly articles.  BSC is generally our second stop after Google.


1.  As a friendly reminder BSC is not Google; try searching with fewer keywords at the onset, and then limit your results.

2.  If you’re doing research that spans multiple topics and your library/university has subscriptions to many EBSCO subject databases, you may see the Choose A Database button which lets you search across them.

Reference USA


Reference USA is my go-to source when I'm trying to create a list of companies. This database is a subscription database, so check with your local library to see if you have online access with your library card. The Reference USA US Businesses module contains basic directory type information for more than 14 million public and private businesses in all zip code areas of the United States. Information includes name of business, address, telephone number, headquarters, branch and subsidiaries identification, SIC codes, yellow pages headings, ticker symbol, credit rating, number of employees, and estimated sales volume. You can use Reference USA for your job search, market sizing, and to profile cities or neighborhoods for business development. Other modules in Reference USA include Residential listings and New Businesses.

Check out this video tutorial to see how Reference USA works:

Need "Fast Answers"? Ask the Harvard Business School Library

HBS Library Photo

Looking for quick answers to some of the most common business reference questions? Check out the "Fast Answers" page from the Baker Library | Bloomberg Center at Harvard Business School.  In just a few clicks I can find business demographics, historical exchange rates, industry information and just about anything else I can think of. Not everything they point you to is free but some of it is. And if they point you to a database, you can check your local library and see if you have access. Harvard even offers cheat sheets on how to use most any business database available. These can be very helpful if you've got access and need to become familiar with all the features of a particular database. Teach yourself how to use a few new databases and you've suddenly got some new skills to add to your resume.